MOLINE, IL – This Wednesday at 10am, hockey returns to the iWireless Center. With just hours left in the offseason, 20 players are on the roster currently. Of those 20, seven of them are at the Iowa Wild training camp. What that means for the team, I’m not sure. I don’t expect all 20 of the faces we’ll see on Wednesday to be the same 20 we’ll see on opening night October 14, but we’ll just focus on them for now.
The Mallards either have 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies, or 11 forwards and seven defensemen after the late return of swing player Kyle Follmer after his attempt at a season in Europe. The roster is full of young talent, but that young talent has yet to be tested by a coach as skilled and experienced as Terry Ruskowski. The average age of the Mallards is 24.5 years old (not including Ruskowski or Axtell, of course). Eight of the players on the team are fresh out of the college or juniors ranks; only half of the forwards are experienced.
Why is the roster so thin? Shouldn’t there be more players for Coach Ruskowski to cut? You’re probably wondering. Not if there’ll be lots of players assigned to the Mallards like Ruskowski had said. At the press conference on September 13, Ruskowski said that Iowa would be assigning between three and five forwards to the Mallards; he didn’t mention being sent any defensemen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Before the Traverse City 2016 Prospects Championship, I tweeted the names of the five forwards I expect to see in a Mallards sweater this season. I’m fairly confident in the names, but I could be wrong about it. But, my suspicion is that October 14 we’ll see Adam Gilmour, Nick Saracino, Parker Bowles, Chase Lang, and Mario Lucia at the iWireless Center. I know, I know, Lang played 11 games in Iowa at the end of last season after finishing his juniors career. Well, Raphael Bussieres played the entirety of the 2013-2014 season with Iowa before being assigned to the Alaska Aces and then the Mallards. (Okay, maybe Bussieres isn’t the best example.) But the other four were all sent to Iowa within the first seven days of camp, so they’re still a possibility to be assigned to the Mallards. Since Lucia played nine games for Iowa after finishing at Notre Dame, Lang could still be assigned.
In a September 30 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Michael Russo wrote that Alex Stalock will be Iowa’s number one goalie, with Steve Michalek serving as his back-up. He then reported that Adam Vay will be assigned to the Mallards. This creates an odd-man-out situation for the Mallards. Does Ruskowski keep rookie Tanner Milliron and let C.J. Motte go to develop Milliron as a franchise goalie rather than a Minnesota system goalie? Does Ruskowski keep Motte since he’s currently at the Iowa camp? Will Derek Lalonde ask Ruskowski to keep Motte, the AHL-experienced goalie in the QC in case he needs to be called up as well? While it would be nice to be able to use a spot on the reserve list to keep a third goalie, I doubt Ruskowski would do that. The only other option would be to have Milliron be in Peoria and called up whenever Vay is called up, but Peoria already has two goalies. While I’m sure Peoria has another goalie on speed-dial for when Shannon Szabados gets called to Team Canada practices, I doubt it’s Milliron.
Even though training camp starts in three days, only thirteen players are available as of this writing. Motte, Andrew Panzarella, Jace Coyle, Sam Warning, Jack Nevins, Chris Francis, and Michael Parks are all in Des Moines. I doubt Lalonde would call up any of the players who are on a Mallards contract camp has even started; Minnesota has yet to finish camp and therefore isn’t done assigning players to Iowa yet.
In related news, the Chicago Wolves opened their training camp today, and several familiar names appeared on the roster. Former Mallards forwards Joe Perry, Collin Valcourt, and Zach Pochiro are in Hoffman Estates, as well as former Mallards defenseman Austin Coldwell. Goalie Niklas Lundstrom is also on the roster; he was cut from the Mallards roster before opening night after Iowa assigned Michalek and Brody Hoffman. Last month, I had predicted Coldwell receiving a letter if he returned; since the Missouri Mavericks are now affiliates of the St Louis Blues (the parent team of the Chicago Wolves), I don’t see Coldwell returning.
Even though the Mallards have a full roster right now, I think this training camp will see more roster moves than the average camp.
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